Tokyo-3 had become a haunted city. Not merely abandoned, it was permeated by a very real force of fear. Only minimal security was needed to keep people at bay, and the soldiers that guarded its limits had tours of duty no longer than six months. No one wanted to be there. No living thing wanted to be there, either. No dogs prowled the city's empty streets, though there were easy meals to be had of food rotting on the stores' shelves. No birds flew in the skies overhead. The fishing off the coast was negligible. The only agent whose marks were visible in the city was time. Time ate away at the buildings, pulled down the traffic lights, and sent cracks through the concrete that made up the street. In time, everything in the city would collapse into the massive hole in the downtown over the Geofront. Lillith, the Angel on the cross, had left on a fierce and brutal column of fire that had taken her up through the hole. The blaze that accompanied her departure had leveled the city above the second story. It had also sucked up all the oxygen from the air as she went; the winds in her wake stripped the trees from the hillside and the litter from the streets. So Tokyo-3 became a town that nothing wanted to live in, and that nothing was able to live in. Eight years after the terrible events, the forest had expanded marginally to recover the land it had once occupied. But inside the city limits, there were no grasses or weeds. And yet, Aida Kensuke had told them--albeit somewhat cryptically--that this was where they could find Ayanami Rei. Shinji wondered how her quality of life was, if she was doing well. After he met her, he had an answer. Perhaps she had been waiting for them, there on the ground by her apartment building. She was still dressed in her middle-school uniform. She was smiling, a real smile, showing every one of her teeth. A distracted part of Shinji's mind told him that it was the first time he had seen her smiling like this, with her eyes wide open and her hands clasped in front of her. Ayanami Rei was a perfectly articulated set of bones, lying on the cement, staring up towards where her apartment had once been. "Nobody knows what happened," said Kensuke. "Maybe she lived through it, and somebody just told her to go home. Maybe she came back here because it was home for her. I, I hadn't thought about it before. Someone told me a couple of months ago that there were some human remains here in the city, but nobody had gotten around to recovering them." "WHY THE HELL NOT?" screamed Shinji to the empty city. "Isn't she still a HUMAN BEING?" Kensuke looked away. "It's not my responsibility, Shinji. I can't see every order through. Besides...the city should have been evacuated before the Seventeenth Angel appeared. People didn't know that it was Rei, you know. It wasn't anything personal. They thought that some kid had wandered in here and died." Shinji dumped the few items in his day pack out. He picked up Rei's skull and stuffed it down in to the bottom of his bag, followed by Rei's cervical vertebrae. "You know what, Kensuke? I quit. I am THROUGH with NERV." "I understand, Shinji." Touji and Hikari had followed Shinji's example and were gathering up Rei's limb bones. "It just doesn't make any sense...my father's getting fed and clothed, and at the same time, Asuka was abandoned and Rei wasn't given any proper respect as a human being. This is NERV's fault." Shinji was carefully slipping ribs into his pack. "So when you get back to New Amsterdam, you tell everyone that I've had enough, and I'm not even going to be an unofficial NERV employee, do you hear me?" "Yes, Shinji. You're right." They packed Rei's skeleton out of the city, through streets once familiar, now dead. On the hillside southwest of town, a few trees contemplated the city below them. It was a quiet, reflective spot. Shinji, joined by his friends, scraped out a grave where Rei's remains could be at rest. "I'll see that a headstone gets placed here," Kensuke volunteered, "or something. We never knew Rei, did we? Any idea what she'd want here, Shinji?" "None. Anything you do will be fine. Thank you, Kensuke." The next morning found Ikari Shinji in his apartment, staring idly out the window. He had been travelling continuously for six days. Although he had promised his employers he would return to work that next day, he found he didn't want to. The thought of going back to an office where he was unappreciated, only to make other people a lot of money, made him sick. Sickness made him think of hospitals. Hospitals made him think of hospital ceilings. The connection left him shivering with awe. He actually hated the state of his life. He hated his job, he hated living alone, and he hated himself for it being that way. Why couldn't he have kept his friends together after high school? Why couldn't he have gone out and gotten a real job? Was it too late for him? He looked around the room. His possessions were few in number: the computer, a few clothes, a couple of pieces of furniture--he hadn't needed more, he thought. In the bank was most of a year's salary. Really, the only thing he had was... Shinji padded across the apartment and opened a closet door. His cello lay at rest in like the trunk of a nude. The auburn wood was warm in the morning light. After a little tuning, his strings still sounded beautiful and melancholy beneath the bow. "Well," he said to himself, "I guess I can't write novels, or compile crosswords, or kill people. I can still play the cello. It's been a while since I tried composing, but...there isn't anything left for me." Two days later news arrived that the United Nations was constructing a monument to the memories of the people who had died in Tokyo-3. Shinji calculated that he had only really known a few dozen people during his days in the city. But there was a story he could tell about all their memories, and Shinji planned to be done with his exodium before Kensuke could finish his testimonial. The symphony began gently and slowly in the key of E major. The solo cello played a flat, uninspired melody; yet the soul with which Shinji played it brought life, and a sense of sorrow, to those wholly predictable notes. After a few minutes, Shinji's newly-acquired synthesizer added an orchestral backing in c# minor. The tempo changed from common time to cut time, appropriate for a march, and dissonant bass chords with suspended thirds seemed to hound the lead cello... -- Copyright 2000 Daniel Snyder. Permission to duplicate in any digital/binary/e-mail form; however, any physical printout is strictly prohibited. Shin Seiki/Neon Genesis Evangelion is the intellectual property of GAINAX. Any resemblance between persons living or deceased is purely coincidental. I realized, in the course of writing this story, that there were several similarities between my story and others'. The concept of Touji becoming a physical therapist stems from Alain Gravel's "The One I Love Is...", while having one of the Children studying psychology comes from "Farewell, (to the Final)" by Daruma and Ka-Wing Tam. Although I did not consciously choose to emulate these two stories, the fact is that I read both before writing this one. All similarities should be considered as flattering and not simply imitative.